Friday, May 28, 2010

Logging off? Confessions of a...

Confession: I'm an Internet addict. I tweet. I Facebook. I check email within 30 seconds of its arrival. I use AIM. Gchat. The office internal IM system. Hell, I don't even think about going to the store without my phone and its ability to offer insta-Google. Why would I? You never know when there could be a produce crisis and I may suddenly really need to know the difference between kale and Italian kale.

I've been thinking a lot about how wired I am and how it fuels distraction in my life, in part because I just finished reading A.J. Jacobs' latest book, "The Guinea Pig Diaries." In one chapter he spends a month doing nothing but "unitasking" because he says we've multitasked ourselves away from our ability to focus.

In the 18th century, there were things like "attention athletes" who spent hours and days focusing on ONE THING and one thing only.

"Oh, to be born in the golden age of attention," he writes. "When Lincoln and Douglas could have three-hour debates, or the faithful could pray without ceasing for four hours. When people would look at a painting for an afternoon. Paintings! They're like TV, but they don't move."

Today, though, the average U.S. student gives up working on a complicated math problem after only 9.5 minutes. (Because he writes it better than I ever will, I'll keep quoting.) Jacobs says the "culture of distraction changes the way we think." It, literally, reroutes our brain, which makes us anything but the brightest, happiest, conscious people we wish we were.

So, what the hell happened to us? Turns out we basically started screwing ourselves out of the ability to focus sometime around the Industrial Revolution. That's when, as Jacobs says, "we began to fetishize speed and equate quickness with intelligence."

Personally, I can barely sit in silence without my mind suddenly doing the mental equivalent of crunking. Prayer? OMG. Try to find time to sit and quietly reflect? Pashaw. Ride the bus and just focus singularly on the beauty of Lake Michigan? Such effing effort. That's when my brain suddenly decides it MUST comes up with an 8-point plan on how to clean my floorboards. Floorboards, people! Right! This! Very! Second! (This is hysterical because, well, a solid 80 percent of the time you can't even SEE my floorboards, what with the giant mountain of clothes everywhere. But that's beside the point. Or maybe it IS the point.) Hell, I can't even talk on the phone without doing something else: emailing, typing, cleaning, lounging in a bubble bath, walking the dog, cooking dinner, driving my car. I do, however, draw the line at toilet talking. Because, I'm sure you REALLY wanted to know that.

My point... my point... where was I? Oh, right. Yes. Focus. Technology.

In essence, we've (and me, specifically here) somehow acquired this cultural ADD and then proceeded to magnify it with our increasingly wired lifestyle.

I know I do.

Once a few years ago when I was felled by a particularly violent stomach flu, I spent the night crouched on the floor of the bathroom holding on to my Blackberry so I could tweet and text my woe. In between heaving.

Sure, I was never a Focus McFocuserson. Hell, Currer Bell once nearly kicked me out of a Zen meditation group because I couldn't stop fidgeting. But I swear, with each passing day it feels like it's harder and harder to do one thing -- and do it well from start to finish without interruptions

Do you feel that way, too?

All of this is swirling around in my brain today while I was a) at work; b) at lunch; c) riding the L; d) trying on my FABULOUS new prescription sunglasses; e) did I mention they were fabulous; f) basking in the sun on the ride home; g) walking the mutt dog; h) watching 2 episodes of NCIS while eating dinner and sorting fabric scraps and mocking SATC2 for simply existing.

Yet somehow, in the midst of all the noise of my mind, I came across this: 8 reporters at The Washington Post tried to unplug for a week. They nearly lost their minds. Then they wrote about it.

Think about it: no e-mail. No iPhone. No quick Googling. No YouTube to see the latest Greyson Chance video. I don't think I could it. A full-on wired hiatus. A technological Sabbath.

It makes my busy brain hurt to think about.

I wonder if I could even go a day. Could you? I wonder how I could become better at quieting my my monkey mind that bounces all around like a 3-year-old riding the wave of a raging sugar high.

I guess what I'm saying is this. My name is Noodles. I'm wired. And I'm an addict. And I bet you are too.

Image found here.


Sew Here We Are said...

:-) You had me laughing out loud! We never had a computer in the house much less the internet until my oldest graduated high school in '02. Yes I raised my daughters, (gasp!), not wired up.
After that it was on..We all fell into the sin pool of surfing, searching, emailing, etc, etc. Since then I have had 2 occasions to have abstinence from being wired up forced upon me. The first, we had water leak in the house and spent the next 3 months doing renovations, had to pack the computer up. That was hard, but I survived! Once I realized I was not going to go into panic attacks whilst not being able to jump on the computer at any given moment (and I remembered I had lived without it for years and years!) I was ok. Held me in good stead for the next occasion of being unplugged when recently old faithful decided to crash and burn. Took it in stride, no biggie. Will get new computer when I can afford what I want. I was ok...Those that love me, well, they were vexed and worried for me. They, hubby, daughters, friends were more upset about me not having a computer, internet, etc than I was. I had access to a computer anytime I felt the need, at my office, either of my daughters and all my friends offered up theirs for my use. During this 2 month period I think I maybe got on a computer once a week, mainly to check emails for work. It's like with any other addiction, the longer you’re away from it...not your constant... You realize you can breath, what you have been missing, what you have allowed 'that' to distract you from. Your mind, body and soul slow down and you do stop and smell the roses. It’s not easy at first, but it’s do-able. It took circumstances beyond my control, forced sabbatical from computer, tech, internet, etc To make me realize I personally don't need constant stimulization, instant gratification, whatever. Don't get me wrong I still run around multitasking, but I did that before being plugged in, up or on. I would sum this up, but I've rambled on for so dang long I think I have forgotten my point...LOL.
uhmmm I think I started out by trying to answer your question..."Could I go a day.."

The Modern Gal said...

I saw an excerpt of that chapter somewhere about six months ago and it got me to thinking too, so I tried unitasking more. It's definitely hard, especially with our jobs.

That said, I definitely don't mind leaving my phones behind for an afternoon, and often do on my days off (well, I usually have the work one with me, but I only look at it if I hear it ring). It's nice, I need the disconnectedness. Of course, I've never been as fidgety as you either :)